My Manifesto on Literary Analysis

The question of how one should read/contextualize literature has filled countless books, but I’ll try to sum it up in 300-500 words. Throughout English 220, I felt that New Criticism offered a far too narrow view of a literary work. While it is potentially the most universal method, I found it to be the least valid. The idea of excluding all information that is not specifically in the written text and thusly coming to a single universal conclusion seems to me to actually be inherently flawed. I found that the reader’s interpretation suffers when he is unable to understand the context of the text.

When looking over all the methods we have used this semester, I found myself being drawn to New Historicism as the most credible method of understanding literature. The concept of reading literature as a historical text and interpreting it based on the events surrounding the works carries more validity than any other method. The most obvious choice of the books we have read to support New Historicism is “Mrs. Dalloway”. I have tried to imagine how I would have interpreted this novel if I read it without knowing about WWI, its effects on British culture, the decline of Imperialism, sexual and gender repression, and countless other underlying themes that one only uncovers by studying the historical context. While this is obviously an impossible task, I have come to the conclusion that I would not have such appreciation for the book if I could not place it in historical context. I would still have grasped several themes but the most encompassing and universal method is to read literature as a historical text, in my opinion. Not only this, but I find that this method works both ways as well. One of the best ways to understand history is to read the literature of the time. I believe that relating written text to the culture and history of the period it was publish in is the most effective way to understand literature and that is why New Historicism, in my opinion, is the most credible method for literary analysis that we have studied.

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